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Country Dancers Give 'Flirtatious' Convocation

Old Seabury Gym was buzzing with activity and conversation as the Berea College Country Dancers gave their annual spring convocation on Tuesday, April 10. The theme for the convocation, which celebrated its tenth anniversary, was "International Flirtations: Three Hundred Years of Social Dance." The dancers performed an array of folk dancing that ranged from English Country Dance to American Dance.

Justin Grewe and Theresa McKearin in a couples dance.

English Country Dances were popular social dances from the 1600s to the 1800s in both Europe and the United States. Participants in these dances interacted with not only their dance partners but also with everyone else involved in the set. English Country Dances have been captured and immortalized in literature of the 19th century, where the dances are used to set the stage for flirtation and matchmaking. The Berea College Country Dancers warmed up by performing three of these dances: Female Saylor, written in 1706; Old Mole, written in 1651; and the Waterfall Waltz, written in the 20th century by Pat Shaw.

Next came the Danish and English Challenge Dances. The dancers performed Little Man in a Fix, a Danish couples dance. The crowd favorites of this set were by far Bacca Pipes and Ox Dance. Bacca Pipes is a Country Dancer staple here at Berea. Performed solo by senior Jessica Harman, the dance is a test of skill traditionally done by men. Since the 1960s, however, women have danced the number. According to Berea College tradition, if the woman touches the pipes while dancing her jig both around and on top of them, her bad luck may only be broken by a handsome bachelor. The Ox Dance, which began seamlessly blended into the end of Bacca Pipes, involved two handsome bachelors, played by senior Justin Grewe and freshman Bozhidar Bashkov. The two displayed their brawn in an attempt to win over the young lady and used dance as a medium for a brawl, throwing choreographed punches and shoves. Of course, the bacca dancer left with a different young man in the end.

The exciting Morris and Sword Dance genre piqued the interest of the audience with the Rapper and the unique costumes for the Strange Dance. Morris and Sword Dances were performed by common people in Europe from the 1400s to the 1800s, often at festivals celebrating the changing seasons. The dancers performed Bromsberrow Heath, Kiss and Tell, Two Men Shy and a brand new jump rope clog that featured solo performance by senior Laurel Bisby.

The highlight of the Morris and Sword Dance set was Rapper. In years past, the dance has traditionally been done by young men, but this year brought a surprising twist: Rapper was performed entirely by women! The dance comes from the coal mining area of northern England, and is traditionally performed at midwinter to celebrate the rising sun, which is symbolized by the raised swords interlocked into the shape of a star.

Strange did indeed live up to its name, with the dancers running around in odd attire and hollering and shouting. Strange is a Molly Dance that originated in England. It was performed by plough-boys during the off season when work was scarce. Dancing for donations was a way for them to make up for lost income. The strange costumes worn by the dancers symbolizes the ragged clothing that the plough-boys wore.

Last in the program were the American Dances. Before other forms of entertainment existed, dancing was an important way for young people to socialize. "This is the kind of stuff they did for fun," said Country Dancers Leader Jenna Holmes. "We still think it's fun!" In Charley, a party dance, the dancers made their own music by singing a flirtatious song with their steps. Starring Gypsies was inspired by the dance Gypsy Star by Cary Ravitz of Lexington, Ky. Starring Gypsies is a Contra Dance that developed from English Country Dancing in New England in the 19th century.

Billie in the Lowground, a clogging dance that was a historically a solo dance, was most often done by men to impress women and other spectators. This particular dance was written by the Country Dancers at the Christmas Country Dance School in 1996. The last dance of the evening was the traditional Big Set, which is the flirtatious cousin of New England Contra Dancing that evolved from other popular social dances like quadrilles and cotillions. After the completion of Big Set, the audience was invited to participate in their own version of the dance.

For 70 years, the Berea College Country Dancers have been performing regionally, nationally and internationally, representing Berea College and bringing dances of the Appalachian region and various countries to enthusiastic audiences. This year's student dancers were Bemene Baadom-Piaro, Bozhidar Bashkov, Mildred Biggs, Laurel Bisby *, Michael Cheeks, RoseMarie Goble, Justin Grewe*, Michelle Grubb, Jessica Harman*, Miranda Hileman, Kenneth Johnson, Theresa McKenna*, Priya Thoreson, Joseph Trembula. (* denotes senior status).

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